Claire McDonald is a director at SIAN Group, a global live communications and destination management company. SIAN arranges boutique events from its bases in Dubai and London.
In this episode you will find out about Claire’s incredible combination of scientific and creative thinking, making SIAN a top prospect for anyone wanting to create a world-class event.
In this episode you will discover:
- How Claire approaches each project she does.
- Claire’s passion for working in the charity sector.
- What Claire’s number one priority is when she plans anything.
Links for this episode:
If you are interested in destination event management, please have look at the following links:
Flow – Air Conditioning for Temporary Structures
For Audio Transcript click here
Claire: Data can be beautiful, so now I’m thinking how can I do that in an event? So that’s been keeping me up at night now, because I want to know what technology I could use. Be a geek, I would say.
Female: Toby and James are involved in amazing events all over the world. You’re listening to the Planner’s Planner Podcast, where top events professionals share real world experiences and cutting edge ideas. Sponsored by MetropolisProductions.co.uk
James: Hello, and welcome to the planner’s Planner Podcast. I am James Eager. This is my first attempt at starting a podcast, and I am here with Toby Goodman.
How are you today, Toby?
Toby: I’m good. I’m enjoying being in the passenger seat for this one. How does it feel?
James: It’s slightly frightening being in control of this juggernaut, but it’s good and I’m excited.
Toby: All right. Off you go then.
James: Today Toby has a great chat with Claire McDonald from Sian Events. Sian are a group of companies based in Dubai and London. They are a creative company specializing in live communications, destination management, exhibitions, and far, far more, as you will discover.
Toby, how do we know Claire?
Toby: How do we know Claire? Claire was introduced to me by a really great singer I did some work for called Peter Grant. He’s a kind of jazzy, poppy crossover character. A real serious talent, so if you are into that stuff, check him out. What happened? We met her and … together you and I met her, and we went on to help her with the audio for a showcase she was producing in London for a Russian based artist called Sultanov. Claire’s a real entrepreneur, as you will hear, and is a key part of some of the world’s most amazing events. That’s no exaggeration. When she talks about what she’s done, you’ll hear that that is who she is.
James: Yeah, this podcast was a real learning for me, because when we worked on that showcase or album launch for Sultanov with her. I was production managing, and I didn’t really take a huge amount of notice of the rest of the event, because my mindset was taken up with looking after the audio, making everything sounded perfect. Having listened to what she said, I have now got such a clearer idea of how she branded and created that whole event from the ground upwards.
Anyway, personally, going back to the podcast itself, personally I love this podcast. It’s one of my favorites. It really resonates in such a way. I guess it’s about how we run Metropolis, be and entrepreneur, and life in general almost. So for me, this podcast is all about mindset. How you think about everything. The combination of her scientific and creative mind is such a key to her being such a successful businesswoman.
If you like that kind of thing it’s really worth listening to the last five to ten minutes as Claire starts to elaborate on her influences, and how she combines different forms of thinking from different disciplines to create ideas for her events.
Anyway, shall we get on with the interview, Toby?
Toby: Yep. Here’s my chat with Claire McDonald from Sian.
Female: The Planner’s Planner Podcast is sponsored by MetropolisProductions.co.uk and Metropolis-Live.com.
Toby: Claire McDonald, how are you?
Claire: I’m very well, thank you. How are you?
Toby: Brilliant. We’ve already done this already.
Claire: [inaudible 00:03:31] new.
Toby: I know.
Okay, so you work for Sian Events.
Claire: I do, yes.
Toby: You don’t just work for Sian Events, you are Sian Events.
Claire: Well I am a third of it. Actually, technically we’ve got a lovely … another shareholder at the moment, so I’m technically a fourth of it.
Toby: Wow. Okay.
Claire: Essentially, we started as a family business.
Claire: Yeah. It was ’78. Well, I was just born then, so I was nothing to do with it at that stage. My father founded it in ’78, and then I joined in 2002.
Claire: Yeah. Pretty old.
Toby: You’re not old.
What’s the deal with before 2002 then? What did … We don’t even know what you do yet, but what were you doing before you joined the family business?
Claire: Well, what I was doing … I’m an engineer. I’m a mechanical and offshore drilling engineer by degree, which I actually …
Toby: I didn’t know that.
Claire: Yeah, random. Yeah, loved math and physics so I ended up doing that. That was what I was studying, and then in parallel, as a child growing up before that actually, my father and mother were running Sian, which was originally called UM Promotions, doing very wonderful theater tours and upmarket corporate golf days, pro slams for the oil industry mainly, in Aberdeen, north Scotland. That was how I grew up really. In and out of theaters at weekends, and golf resorts and all that sort of stuff. I always had a bit of a passion for entertainment and found it a lot of fun, as you can imagine, as a kid. Then I was encouraged by sensible parents to get a degree, which I did. Then I ended up going back to the business anyway, so, it was a bit of a waste of time.
Toby: What pulled you back in?
Claire: To be honest, I had move out to the Middle East, which , as had they, a couple of years … While I was at university they had actually made the move to the Middle East, in oil. My father was in oil. I went out and was working for McDermott Engineering in my engineering capacity, and just realized, out there, a) I was finding engineering not quite as fun as I thought it would be. An oil field’s not as fun as I thought it would be, and realizing there was a massive, growing country in the United Arab Emirates … a group of countries that are just thriving, and it was so much fun, and there was so much opportunity to do events, so we, me and my parents, decided to give it a rebirth in Dubai.
I think it was 2002, early 2002. Rather than create a company in oil or something else, go back to our roots, so I started it up pretty much on my own, but with a bit of backing from Mum, as Dad was obviously in oil still, and spent ten years growing it into what it is today, which is … It’s taken us all back fully. Obviously, Dad left the oil, and we all now work in Sian Events, and it’s become much more of a corporate event management company, and destination management company now. We work globally, but our head office is still in the UAE.
We’re very lucky that we have been able to grow with the UAE, which was a fantastically dynamic platform.
Toby: It was oil that prompted the move in the first place?
Toby: It wasn’t entertainment?
Claire: No. It was originally oil, just you know, work, and it was a foreign posting over there, which is very common.
Claire: In many sectors, not just oil, because Dubai is a hub of … a melting pot of amazing people from all over the place.
Claire: We ended up being there, and off we went and never looked back. Luckily, Dubai has been a wonderful place for our family, so we are very fond of it.
Toby: That’s really cool. It’s so funny, because I see you as the hub of all things showbiz, and … In many ways, just because you’ve got so much going on, and when we me, for clarity, I guess it was through Peter Grant, who’s a jazz singing crooner guy. A really nice guy, who I worked with …
Claire: Yes. That was how we met.
Toby: … In my capacity as a muso [slang for musician], and I can’t remember why we were talking, but we hooked up and he said, “Listen, you should meet Claire.” Then we did nothing to do with … You don’t really know me as a muso, but you know me as this guy who has got a production company with James. So we started working that way, but you have got such close links to musicians.
Claire: Mm-hmm (affirmative)- I love music.
Toby: You love music. Yet, your background is scientific.
Claire: Scientific. Yeah, it is, but I think with music and … They say they’re very linked, don’t they? Maths and music.
Claire: Yeah. I think people appreciate one, appreciate the other, and yeah. Events, with my events you’re creative director and producer at event, head on. Yes, entertainment and music are always a massive part of any show I write, or we as a company put together. Entertainment, as you know, is a heartbeat of any event, whether it be in live entertainment or technology based entertainment, or … You’ve got to get people emotionally engaged in what you are doing. Yeah, I think it’s crucial, and so having a love for, and understanding of music and the arts is definitely a massive bonus. I don’t think you could do what we do for your clients without that. I think it’s a very live, organic business event.
Toby: Yeah, and you’ve used your business acumen, and your knowledge of various types of entertainment, and event, and music to work in various different sectors, including charity as well.
Claire: Yes. Absolutely. I think it’s hugely important to do … not just live to work and make money, I think it’s got to be a balance, otherwise it just doesn’t feel quite right to us, and that’s been a company philosophy from early on. Again, my mother and father put that in as well, because we try and keep 10% charity work always in parallel, whether it be a music concert, or supporting a charity. I’m lucky enough to work with a couple of clients who are humanitarian groups and registered charities, so yes, you’re working for them, but you’re working in a an arena where you are … For the benefit of climate change, or we work a lot with music for charities. I have my own One Voice [For 00:10:42], which is a charity that we sing … Essentially give you a voice for those without a voice.
Claire: Which is fun. That’s based in London, that charity which I run from here.
Yeah, it’s good. I think if you’ve got … I’m lucky enough to have some wonderful connections, and I’m surrounded by talent all day long. It’s good to get them to put their voices to good use, I think.
Toby: Quite right.
Toby: The differences then between the … I’m just trying to drill down the types of events that you are involved in, because you plan loads of stuff.
Toby: You’re always on the case, and yet you are involved in so many different types of event, and obviously charity is going to differ from corporate, it’s going to differ from the work that you do with artist development. If you could sum up what you do, is that quite hard, because I think I know what you do, but it would take me about an hour to say, “Okay, Claire’s this person, but actually she’s also this person.” Do you have …
Claire: Have you looked at me in isolation Claire. Yes, of course, I do obviously more things, but as a Director of Sian, Sian’s very clear in what it does.
Toby: Yeah. Absolutely, yeah.
Claire: One of the top five leading event companies in the Middle East. It mainly services the corporate sector. We do destination management, which is a massive thing. We’re a very boutique agency. We’re not huge. We stay around, at any one time, sort of 20 – 25 full time employees, and obviously sub contractors due to the nature of events.
Claire: We don’t aim to get it huge. Our vision and company philosophy is very much personalized service. We have long standing clients, we work with them for years, and developing brands and… We are essentially a live communications company really. For the focus, we do events, exhibitions and destination management. That’s our hub of thing, but yeah, as a Director, I’m lucky to have an incredible GM in Dubai now, Kelly Fitzgerald, who heads up the Dubai office now, and has allowed me to go back to London, reopen our office here, which we haven’t had a UK office for quite some years now. We’re offering slightly different here, you’re right. We do artist development, and we still do live communications, but it’s not just brands. It can also be artists. I’ve worked with a couple of very interesting artists, and continue to at the moment.
Claire: Yeah, and I have the charity, so it’s … I’m very fortunate. I can indulge in a bit more charity work now. I’ve got some amazing support in Dubai as well.
Toby: Yeah. So Sian’s very clear what it does, as you said. I’ve got the website up here just to make sure that I know that I’m on the same page.
Claire: A quick peek.
Toby: Yeah. I’ve looked at this website quite a few times, and you’re … Yeah, it is very clear and you have obviously got a great team. Why did you move back?
Claire: That’s a question if often ask myself.
Toby: Yeah, why am I so cold, and what am I doing here?
Claire: No. You know. You’re like me as well. Entrepreneurial people, you sort of … I’m lucky, you know my father, thank goodness, is the same. My mother is the same, because they’ve moved and taken up opportunities. I don’t like to stay static for too long, and Dubai, I suppose a good ten years there. My young adult life, so. I always wanted to live in London. It’s always been a huge dream of mine to come here, and to have the opportunity open a company here. Yeah, it’s not been easy. As we all know, the first couple of years are always a challenge.
Claire: I think for me personally, it’s important to do that, and Sian, over the ten years I have been working out of the Dubai office, I worked so … Luckily with [inaudible 00:14:40], and companies like Besix. I spent a lot of time touring with formula one, producing events in lots of different countries. I realize that what we do is to a very high standard. We’re actually … It’s funny when you’re in one world, one country, you don’t know how you compare to others.
Toby: It’s hard to measure yourself, isn’t it? Actually …
Claire: It pushes …
Toby: Yeah, and also I think that people that consistently measure themselves are in the wrong head space anyway, because you’re trying to create something unique. You’re not trying to create a copy and paste kind of thing like, “They’re doing that, so I’ll do that too.” I think people like you, and companies like Sian, and hopefully companies like ours, aren’t spending a lot of time going, “Okay, what are these guys doing?” It’s a bit of a waste of time really.
Claire: It’s a total waste of time.
Toby: We’re all just trying to find something credible, and ethically cool, and all those things that’s unique, and that’s what you’re … you seem to be churning out consistently amazing new ideas. I can see that. When I first met you in person, I think that was the first time I met you, I met you in Pizza Express …
Toby: On … is it on the Kings Road?
Claire: The Pheasantry, yeah.
Toby: The Pheasantry, just south of the river in London. Really nice venue. It was a daytime video shoot.
Claire: Yes, it was.
Toby: With Peter, and with Danny, and it was kind of like, “Okay, don’t really know Claire. We’ll go and say hi,” and you were shooting a video on iPhones, or a lot of stuff on iPhones.
Claire: Loads of iPhones.
Toby: Loads of iPhones, and it was like, “okay. What’s going on here?”
Claire: Yeah, absolutely. You’ve no time about rumors. There wouldn’t be time for a quick one even if we had it, but …
Claire: Yeah, budget things do. You’ve got to … I think you don’t always have budgets, and you don’t always have … You’ve got restrictions. I think it’s about staying creative and finding a way to make it happen. That turned out really good, that little adventure.
Toby: Yeah, and you found a beautiful looking room.
Claire: Yeah, which is most important, and …
Toby: Filled it with talent.
Claire: …Peter sings.
Toby: Yeah. Filled it with talent.
Claire: Peter, and [inaudible 00:17:13] and Danny McCormack, you can’t go wrong in this kind of field.
Claire: Yeah. It was fine.
Toby: Yeah. I was like, “That’s really nuts, but really cool.”
Claire: That’s the beauty. Again, I’m harping … I’m not really doing a Dubai tourism video, but the beauty of Dubai, I grew up in my events world in Dubai, so that was yeah education, and almost my school, and it’s got a no boundaries approach.
Claire: Dubai is so brilliant. My clients there, and still today are clients there, are just fantastic. Everyone can dream in Dubai. It’s actually one of those places that still exists that dreams can happen, and you can try things out and they’re visionary people. That’s what I thought … that was my idea of the world. I thought that’s how everyone was, so … Then when I started to travel I realized that, “Actually, we’re quite different, because we don’t have …” Some people do think, as you say, a bit more copy and paste, and events are done pretty much the same way. You chair out a conference, it looks pretty much like the last. Whereas we didn’t really think that way, just because Dubai doesn’t think that way.
Claire: It’s quite interesting.
Toby: You’re in a community with a lot less nay-sayers as well.
Toby: That’s really exciting, and also you’re less likely to become depressed, or be told how to think. I suppose that’s really important that you’ve carried that thinking back to London now, because perhaps if you had done it the other way round, you’d …
Claire: As many people have, funnily enough.
Toby: As many people have, yeah, because loads of people start in London and then they can’t wait to get out. It’s funny that you’ve brought your way of thinking … your fresh way of thinking, and you’ve brought it back to London with the maturity that you’ve got, and to know that it’s okay to break some rules, and that it doesn’t always go wrong. In fact, a lot of the time it goes amazingly.
Claire: Yeah. As you know, that’s how we know each other. My one ethos is always surround yourself with incredible people, because I think the team is everything. I’m not one of these glory takers, I always work with incredibly talented people, which is always a … When things are live events, problems do happen sometimes, and situations arise, and if you’ve got people like yourselves and other people I work with around you, that you know you can trust in a crisis, it’s so important.
Claire: I think quality, and not cutting corners. I always say that first to my clients, yes there are always ways to do things in a cheaper way, or in a … At the end of the day, there’s a line that Sian, as a rule, won’t go below, because if anything does happen …
Toby: It’s not worth it.
Claire: No, it’s not worth it. Not worth it for anybody, because it’s too important, and too many people have invested their time, their money and their brands, so they’ve got to be in good hands. I think that’s our responsibility really, as event managers, if you like, and producers.
Toby: Yeah. If you take an event and use your role as an event producer, which is … Is that right that you would say that’s what you are?
Claire: Yeah. Creative Director and Producer, I tend to do both. I’m a bit of a control freak.
What does it mean? I might speak to another Creative Director who would give me a different sent of definitions as to what it is they do, and they might have a background I choreography or something. You’ve got a background in mechanical engineering, but you’ve got a background in your family business, and you know loads about events, so what’s your definition of how to produce an event?
Claire: How to produce an event?
Toby: Or do you have a set framework? Is that a better way of framing it? I suppose.
Claire: Well, for me, I always start from a creative standpoint. For me, that’s my natural … I gravitate towards looking at the brand and going into a place, whether it be … I don’t generally think about things in an office for the first time. I try and get out, even if it’s a nice coffee shop, or walking in a park. Somewhere where I can let my mind be a bit more open, and sort of absorb the brief and … In some cases, clients don’t have a huge brief. You’ve got to understand the brand, what they are trying to achieve, who they are, where they’re positioned? For me, it’s something that almost I don’t think too much about it, if I’m very honest.
It seems to just … An idea will always come to me. A small starting point that I go, “Ah, okay.” For some reason that comes, and it might be a … God, it could be anything from a theme, sort of an idea or a concept. Something will come, and then that’s the starting point and I’ll just grow it from there. Then it eventually has to become a bit more structured and obviously turns into your … Sourcing your venues, and giving your clients options, and looking at your preferred parties from a production point of view. Whether it’s a very technological show or a highly music based production. Then everything will start to grow from that nucleus, but I have to say, every time it starts with a creative little idea.
Claire: That will grow. The more you know a client, obviously, it’s wonderful because you can grow together, which, again, I have been very lucky with some of the clients I have worked with over years, and really enjoyed seeing their brands succeed. Being a small part of that is really fun. The same thing, I still enjoy a new one. A completely new brand, smaller brands.
Toby: Yeah. That’s what I was going to say, because I have seen you help create a brand around the Sultanov thing. Here’s a guy …
Claire: That was fun.
Toby: … Who painted a bit, and sung, and was this multi talented chap, and he needed help.
Claire: Right. Lost, because he did so many things.
Toby: Yeah, and you have to find a way of organizing someone, and obviously, you were lucky in the fact that he came to you, and he was able to invest money and time.
Toby: You still had to organize and think about what that looked like from a consumer standpoint, and as someone who hadn’t been traditionally … Am I wrong? I don’t know, but I think Dan was someone who didn’t really have an upbringing in the professional, musical, creative background, so he needed you to frame him right.
Claire: Exactly. Well observed, by the way.
Toby: Is that right? Thanks.
Claire: Yeah, very well observed. The hilarious thing is, he’s in advertising as a day job, but his own brand …
Claire: Isn’t that hilarious?
Toby: Wood for trees.
Claire: Yeah. Wood for trees. He was wanting to be an artist, but he didn’t even think he came with the music to me, and hadn’t even realized. I noticed him doodling one day, and I was like, “God, you really have an unusual, sort of unique flair on paper. Your drawings are really funky, like pop art.”
Claire: He was like, “What?” He didn’t even realize that he had this … His grandfather is one of the most prolific Russian artists. His style of art is taught across twelve of the largest art schools in the world. He’s from a very …
Toby: [crosstalk 00:25:12]
Claire: Yeah. He hadn’t thought about his own skill in that area at all, so I just encouraged him to draw actually, more than anything. I just said, “Well, why don’t you just try and draw a few things, because you’ve got this weird pop 80s sound in your music, and I can see it in your doodling drawings. Maybe we could devise a brand that you are actually more involved in than you thought you were going to be.” He actually started drawing me things, and then from that I took them to our creative team and started designing logos, and album covers, and potential single covers from his drawings. Obviously adding color and doing a bit on … They were his framework.
I think again, with us, it’s a bit abstract, but it’s bringing out the best in people and the best in brands and the best in … I think that’s also part of our job.
I really enjoyed working with him. Then we made the music. The first music video was a complete animation. Animated characters. Him and this girl running through his artwork, and we turned it into a big cartoon world. It was called Keep On Running. It all came out really well, and he had no idea at the beginning that we were going to have such a focus on him as an artist. Yeah, it was fun. It was really fun.
Thank you, because you were amazing at that event.
Toby: I wore a suit. Yeah. No. Thanks very much.
Claire: First class.
Toby: You’ve come back to London. You have never lived in London before. You’ve had to find suppliers, which is obviously why we’re fortunate enough to work with you, and all that, but you also had to find venues, and a community of people, surround yourself with good people. You’re sitting in a studio, which is south London?
Claire: Yes. Battersea. It’s called Battersea Park Studio, formerly Sphere Studios.
Toby: Yep. I nearly said Sphere, and I thought, “I don’t think it’s Sphere anymore.” How did that come about then? You left Dubai with kind of, “I’m going to London,” and you managed, pretty quickly, to hook up with Sphere, as it was at the time, have this amazing space where you can create and record top quality music for the people that you’re working for. You’ve got a desk space where you can plan events from and do all that kind of stuff. How did that happen?
Claire: Yeah. Again, I’m a bit lucky. A very lucky person. I came here and we were producing a record here, and Andy Wright who’s now one of our major partners in the sort of sonic syncing Sian. We also do commercials, and adverts and music for film. Andy’s one of the … Our best partner. He’s based here. He’s been here for years, so just coming into work with him brought me to this space. Luckily there was a little office here, which we needed at the time. I’m not in it anymore actually. I’ve moved into a larger office as we’re growing. Yeah, I was just very lucky. Very lucky timing, because there was only one office here, and it happened to be vacant.
Claire: It was, to be honest, no more than a bit of luck, and the fact that I immediately got on well with the people in this world. It’s a very creative space.
Toby: You must … I mean, to say that it’s a bit of luck, and all that …
Claire: Isn’t this a bit of luck? Not many recording studios have offices in them.
Toby: Yeah, but the question is, if they did, and I’ve been to a few big studios in my time and some of them do have offices, and some of them, I guess, are vacant sometimes. The point is, what did you do or say to get them to give you that office, essentially? Why is it that you’re such a valuable prospect as a person to have around for someone like Andy Wright, who, for people who don’t know, is like a mega record producer.
Claire: Yes. He’s an amazing man, and a wonderful friend. Yeah. We love Andy.
Toby: Yeah. You’ve managed to get this kind of thing by being Claire and just saying, “Oh, well I’m lucky, and I just like good people,” but actually you must be …
Claire: They’ll kick me out probably, if I don’t keep bringing in business, maybe.
Toby: Is that the answer? You kind of say, “I can see an opportunity …”
Claire: Generally, honestly we all just became friends, as you know when you’re making …
Toby: Yeah, totally.
Claire: I’ve made three now, here … or four? Four albums. One of my clients is just downstairs now. Amazing. Bit of a plug for Miel de Botton.
Toby: I love it.
Claire: Fabulous woman. Very fabulous woman. Yeah, she’s just finished her album Magnetic, so yeah. I’m happy with the people here, and we work together, and I think it was … Even Frank, the prior owner here, who has now gone to LA. He and his wife, Crystal, me, Andy, Guy Farley, who’s downstairs, and Pete [Butessi 00:30:47], we all got on very well, and we had the very nice little world that was existing anyway, and I think Frank said, “Why don’t have you that little office upstairs?” Yeah, it is because I have good relationships, luckily, with people.
Toby: Yeah, but you had to cultivate them, and you’re adding to an already really high skill set that is in that building. You’re bringing expertise that wasn’t already there. As much as they probably knew people that did elements of what you do.
Claire: That is true. I immediately was, you know me, can’t help it, organizing live nights, which they hadn’t done here before. Now they’re happening a lot, but yeah. So yes. We brought our music charity here, which again, everyone here wanted to put a little bit back, but I think people often don’t know how to go about it. They want to do some good work, but they don’t really know how to get it going.
Toby: Is that a confidence thing, do you think?
Claire: I think it’s just a little bit … Don’t over think it, is my thing. I think people start to think too much. I think, just get on with it, personally.
Toby: Yeah. Is that …
Claire: A bit like Nike.
Toby: Yeah. Is that a character trait? Is that your unique character trait, that you happen to be a creative that doesn’t procrastinate?
Claire: It could be. I’m a redhead.
Toby: Are you?
Toby: yeah. Okay.
Claire: Yeah. I do like to do things. I think again, as we all are products of our upbringing, and I’ve been very fortunate. My folks are very much just give it a go kind of people. Don’t try and put barriers up, just give it a bash, if it doesn’t work …
Toby: Yeah. It always goes back to the parents, doesn’t it?
Claire: It does, yeah, and our environment. I’ve had that, plus Dubai, which was a very no boundaries approach environment for the first ten years of my working life. I think it all gets involved in the way you are as a person. Yeah, and then you attract … I think I’m a bit of a hippy as well, so like attracts like. I do believe that you attract similar people, and you do too, I’m sure. We gravitate to each other because we like to try things, and enjoy our work. I love what I do. It’s not something I have to get up and go, “Oh, gosh, not another …” you know.
Toby: Yeah. Well, that’s the worst thing ever, isn’t it? To be in that situation, and I think I’ve spent, even though my parents don’t own an entertainment company based in Dubai, actually, the very opposite, if you like. That pushed me to not become a nine to fiver.
Claire: Yeah, because you could see how you don’t want to be. Yes, I guess you’re going to do what you do anyway. as humans, I guess we are going to go where we’re meant to go. Like you say, you can use your parents as a … Some people couldn’t bear my lifestyle. I’ve got friends who think I’m absolutely mad. How can you live without the stability and with the ever changing environment that is the world of events and entertainment, as you know.
Claire: Not many people … People think sometimes our lives’ horrible. It’s just so organic and so in a state of flux, so yeah, it’s not for everyone.
Toby: Yeah, but once you have survived a few years, there’s that ultimate … that thing inside that makes you go, “It’ll be all right.” It’s going to be all right because it’s always been all right.
Claire: Yes, somehow.
Toby: I only know that because I look back. I look back in my diary for reassurance, I never look forwards, you know?
Claire: Yeah. I had the same conversation with an amazing friend of mine today, who’s the head of a big Malaria charity. I was with her for a morning meeting, and she said the same thing. You don’t realize what you’re going through until you look back years after and go, “Gosh, how on earth did I get through that?” That was really tough, but as humans, we just survive and get through it, and find enjoyment where you can along the way.
Toby: Yeah. The other thing that really resonates with me as well, that you’re talking about, is that just making it new each time.
Toby: We’re kind of perceived sometimes on what we’re working … What we’re working on now is our perception … The way that we are perceived. People sometimes just want a solution, and they want to be told what they need, and that’s fine. Other people are looking for help in a specific area, and really, our message is really about … Well, sometimes they say, “Can we see your past work?” Part of us is like, “Yeah, sure you can, because it’s relevant,” and sometimes it’s like, “None of this is relevant, because our view is we are going to sit down and listen to you and try and find out what your challenges are, and what we can do for you that’s going to be amazing and unique,” rather than rest on what we’ve achieved so far.
Toby: The only kind of caveat, I suppose, we can use the fact that we are who we are, is that “you’re not taking a risk because look what we have done so far, but all of these things are very, very different.”
That seems to be how you approach things. New. What’s next? What’s next?
Claire: You just gather experience, don’t you? Which just makes you … As you know in events, the clients invest in us. We are the assets. It’s not an asset based business. We are … Just the people, and you have to provide a … Your clients need to feel safe, and that they’re in good hands, and that you’ve had enough experience to deal with all the eventualities, and have a worldly enough database and network to bring together the right people, and just add that little bit of magic that they need … And yeah, no two are the same. They really aren’t, and they shouldn’t be. Every event, and every exhibition, every activation is worthy of its own complete identity, so I agree with you. They are all brand new, and they should be, because if they’re not, then you’re not really doing your client justice.
Toby: Yeah, and you’re being lazy.
Claire: And you’re being lazy.
Toby: And you’re being lazy, and you should never be lazy.
Toby: What are the real … Someone used this term the other day, hot buttons. What are your real things? We can tie it in to the next thing I was going to say, which is, what’s next? What floats your boat? Obviously that giving ethical side of the company that’s existed for ages as Sian, and everything you do, just to be clear is under that umbrella, when you trade. It’s always Sian, even though you are in the UK, and all that kind of stuff. Then two questions. What’s next for Sian, and what’s next for you?
Claire: Well. We are really moving … I’m out to Dubai tomorrow, funnily enough, flying out in the morning, so … Me, and my family, and Kelly and Stephen Hall, who is our new destination management manager, are all going to sit together and have this actual very exciting conversation about just that.
Toby: [crosstalk 00:38:33]
Claire: Yeah, because the feeling is Sian is really … The world is becoming such a big … You know, the information age we are in … Such a small world, and the global offering … We’ve had now, fifteen years experience working from Canada to Malaysia, Singapore, all over. Obviously London, the Middle East. We have just got a wonderful international global network, with venues, suppliers, entertainers. We really are very strong in the global events arena, but I really feel we need to get our brand to a place that the consumer realizes that, because I think we’ve been working so hard for fifteen years, we’ve got to actually tell people now. When we look, we’re probably one of the leading global boutique event management companies, so I’m quite excited about that challenge, getting our brand and our company, which is now going to become Sian Group.
Toby: Well, that makes sense.
Claire: Yeah, because we … Just make sure our clients realize that the services we can offer them, which can be anything from, just yesterday I helped a client just with a venue they needed in KL [Kuala Lumpur] for a dinner. They don’t need a whole event done, they needed … Immediately, I know all the best venues in KL and I thought, “Goodness, this is crazy. I should actually be … We need to know that our clients know all this.
Toby: Yeah. I suppose, because you’ve been established for so long, loads of the business is referral, as it should and would be for a successful company, and I suppose then, what you are actually talking about if new business and making sure that your offer is clear.
Toby: You do so many things it’s better to go Sian Group, rather than, “This company does all these things,” and you go on the website and go, “okay.”
Claire: Well, it’s events and entertainment and destination management. Obviously, it’s not a huge amount of things, but I think the global offering we have needs to be known, because we’re very … Everyone in Dubai, UAE, even in Oman, Qatar, pretty much know who we are and what we do, and that’s all good. We really need to let that message become broader. We’re working now. We have lots of clients that we do all their London events and we also do their Dubai events, and it’s just sort of getting that messaging clean, and letting people know exactly what we do. Yeah, bringing some new and exciting Sian Group branding to the table, which we’ll be seeing in the next couple of months.
Toby: That’s cool. Is that graphic design related, and stuff like that?
Claire: Yeah. We’re tweaking it … We’re not actually doing it as a big thing. It’s already been gradually integrated through, because it’s not really a change, as I’m saying, we’re just trying to … We just need to update gently the offering that is Sian as a group, and bring that into a … Essentially, it’s more of a live communications company now, than an events company, which is where it begun, but it just naturally evolved into sort of a wider service offering. Yeah, it’s exciting. Exciting times ahead. We’ve also got out sister companies, obviously, in Dubai, which I’ll … Just to give you even more information, Wicked Tents, which is the big structure company that my brother actually runs, but that’s one of our sister companies, and Flow, which does power and air conditioning.
Toby: Which you need out there.
Claire: Which we also need, and We’re just opening a new film location company, which is very exciting. Yeah, we’re also are my brother too. He’s out in Dubai too, we have a few companies there with him as well, so … Yeah, we are kind of a little network of businesses, so it’s quite fun.
Toby: That’s unbelievable, and kind of quite hard to take in, that at the end of a conversation you go …
Claire: [inaudible 00:42:37]
Toby: Oh, hello. Yeah, there’s so much, isn’t there? There’s so much, and then at the end of the conversation you say, “And by the way, there are these other companies …”
Claire: We have a few other companies. Yeah. There are their own companies. Yeah, it’s actually not that complicated, but I’m used to it.
Toby: Yeah. I had a really great chat with Steff Easom who works at Avalon. Do you know [crosstalk 00:43:04]
Toby: Again, that’s exactly … They’re a group.
Claire: Yes, they are.
Toby: Which totally makes sense, and she’s, as you’ll hear if you listen to it, she’s on the corporate booking side, because they’ve got this corporate arm and it … I suppose, yeah, it’s that kind of trusted group name, but the segmentation and then the ability to grow as you see opportunities without having to create something completely new.
Claire: Yeah. It’s important to grow. Obviously, it’s important to grow, and as long as it’s sustainable and with us it’s been over a very long period of years, it’s all very considered, and very organic, and Wicked Tents, for example, is a completely independent company of Sian. It’s completely it’s own animal, as it were. It was born out of my need for … I just wanted some alternative structures to do events in. I was so bored with producing and writing shows to go in a box marquee. It was like, “This is just too boring, we need some more innovative structures in the Middle East,” so …
They have all come from a wise place, but … Yeah, it’s pretty exciting.
Toby: Sure. Sorry, I can hear some sort of random knocking.
I understand that. That’s …
Claire: Yeah, that’s us.
Toby: That’s cool. Here’s a question then. Favorite event that you have done so far?
Claire: Favorite even that I’ve done so far?
Toby: Venue, band, artist, client. What’s the mega highlight, or was there a real game changer one? Was there a massive game changer event where you were like, “Okay, this is next level, and this is me and not my parents.”
Claire: I’ve made it.
Toby: I’m on my own.
Claire: Probably the one where I kind of blew my own mind, because I was petrified, was when we won ac contract to do an event for a Mubadala, who had essentially bought into Ferrari, and we won the pitch to present their first event in Milan with Ferrari, and the first event on the circuit. We rented the castle in the middle of Milan, and just the whole thing from pitch to that phone call I got saying, “Could you do this?” from an amazing creative director friend of mine, Elsie, to me saying, “Yes, I can, of course,” to hanging up going, “Oh my … How am I going to do this? This is such another level.” It was probably one of the most beautiful and incredible events in the castle. I don’t know if you know Milan?
Toby: Yeah, a bit.
Claire: Yeah. The castle in the center, which is just divine, and Visace was the only other person to have rented it at the time. Again, an amazing production partner I have in Milan, bless him, who helped pull that together. That was one, standing in that castle next to the Ferrari we had flown in, and all the guests, and the Ferrari team themselves there, in this beautiful castle, just thinking, “Yes, okay. Global events here we come.”
Toby: How long did that take, from the phone call to the event?
Claire: Well, that’s what’s even more impressive, because I don’t know again, if you know Milan, but it shuts in August, and I got the brief …
Toby: It’s always shut, Italy, in my experience, whenever I try and make a phone call, but that’s the … Something else.
Claire: It shut, and I got the brief in the second week of July, so I had literally … We had just under a week to put it all together, and then we had to work through a dead August, and the event was in the first week of September.
Claire: Honestly, it was a challenge on every level, and I spent the whole six week period with anxiety, but it was amazing. The most beautiful event, and yeah, that was the start of a six year relationship with [crosstalk00:47:01] Ferrari …
Claire: … Touring the world with them and producing events, business platforms, you know, throughout all their various sectors; oil and gas, healthcare, and so forth. Whatever they were building on in every sector around the world. Yeah, that really was a turning point for us globally, and that relationship grew beautifully, and has led to others working with Besix, the amazing construction company, doing their anniversary.
Yeah, I’ve been very lucky, but it does take a client that trusts you and lets you go that extra step. I’m always grateful to people that do trust you along the way, because you need those opportunities in order to show that you can do what you know you can do. You need someone to trust you, so I’m always … You’ve got to be grateful, and I’m always grateful for those people, so …
Yeah, that was probably the most amazing one, I have to say. It took the biscuit.
Toby: That’s unbelievable. Yeah, okay.
All right. Any words to anyone that’s thinking, “Okay, I want to get into event production and stuff.” What are your top tips for people looking at a career in events?
Claire: I think now it’s a bit different. I guess things are always a bit different, but I would say, one of the main things is just to be brave, and keep your mind open. Look at things, read, watch TED Talks, look at technology, keep learning. There’s never a day that goes by that I’m not looking at a TED Talk, or …
Toby: Favorite TED Talk?
Claire: Bit biased at the moment. It’s Alain de Button’s one, because I’ve just watched those. Fascinating.
Claire: What a man. What a fabulous philosopher. I also just put onto our Sian Facebook about the beauty of communication. I don’t know if you’ve seen it on our Facebook? Which I also thought was amazing. Showing how … They’ve basically transposed electrical signals that have come from text messages and communications around certain sectors of the world, and showing these fluxes in data as imagery, as lines as art, basically.
Claire: It’s the most beautiful … Look on my Facebook page and you’ll see what I mean. It was incredible. I can’t remember the chap’s name who delivered the talk on TED, but that just gave me, again, huge ideas for events, so next time I’m doing an event for one of our technology clients, I’d really like to integrate their data into a beautiful art form, like let’s use what you do in the event.
Toby: So clever.
Claire: There’s so many cool twists. You’ve got to think, “Do that,” because data isn’t … Everyone’s a bit negative, “Oh, we’re in the data world,” but data can be beautiful, and if you present something in a certain way … Now I’m trying to think how can I do that in an event, so that’s been keeping me up at night, because I want to know what technology I could use to represent the certain … Be a geek, I would say.
Toby: Be a geek. Yeah. It came up …
Claire: Surround yourself with very trustworthy, clever people that will support you, and have your back. I would say that’s crucial. In any job, not just events.
Toby: How do you know when to let go if something’s not going wrong?
Claire: If something is going wrong?
Toby: Sorry, if something is not … I can’t speak properly. Help.
Claire: If it’s not going wrong, don’t let go.
Toby: For example, you can’t speak properly. How do you know when to let go of a project, or an idea, when it’s not happening?
Claire: Well, I think that’s a very interesting point. I think you really a) don’t use it as a cop out and try your hardest, and work like Billy-O until you truly know, in your guts, because you always know. I believe, again, I’m a big meditator, if you get quiet your guts will tell you, your instinct will always tell you, yes, you’re really tried, but this is now still giving you a … It’s not letting you grow anymore. You’re in a loop, a negative loop.
Claire: I think you get to the point where … Some people use it as a cop out. Funnily enough, we were also talking about this this morning, my friend Anna and I. We had a similar conversation, actually, and saying the same thing. A lot of people use it as an excuse. They don’t want to fail, so they don’t try. I think you have got to be very honest with yourself, because we can all be fear … We are all scared of failure. Especially big ego people. It’s important to give it a really good go, but then important to just be balanced, and you know if you’re hitting your head against a brick wall. You’ve just got to listen to yourself, I think, and listen to people you trust. Again, around you, I think people who really love you, have your back, will say, “This doesn’t seem to be doing you much good. You’re not really in the right place.” It’s probably common sense.
Toby: Yeah. It’s a small group of people normally, I think, right? It’s not kind of …
Toby: … That thing of opening yourself up to feedback on a Facebook stream.
Claire: No. Definitely not.
Toby: Not that beneficial, because …
Claire: No. Zero beneficial.
Toby: Pedant city. They’ll all just go, “Well …” Yeah.
Claire: Yeah. I think … Also, balance of how much of your life you’re giving to something as well. If you are doing something for more pleasure, and you’re trying a new idea, and it’s not taking up too much time, and you’re enjoying the journey, and it’s taking ages to pay off, then who cares? I think, again, it’s all balance, and just making sure you are living a bit of a balanced life too, and enjoying what you are doing. If something is too painful for too long, I think, that’s not what life’s about, is it?
Toby: No. Definitely not.
Claire: You’ve only got one life.
Toby: Well, that’s a good.
Claire: That’s a whole other story.
Toby: Hold on. I think that’s a good way to end the official conversation, you’ve only got one life.
Claire: You’ve only got one life, so yeah, do your best with it, and try and be as … Don’t hurt people on the way, and enjoy. I think that’s it. It’s really basic, isn’t it? I think we can make things very complicated.
Female: You’re listening to PlannersPod.com
Toby: James, that was my chat with Claire. How did you find it?
James I really genuinely loved it. I’ve listened to it a few times now, and each time I pull out something more. It’s probably worth saying at the moment, I’m listening to the Steve Jobs autobiography … No, sorry, biography even. There’s a number of things that she talks about there, really resonates with what I’m reading. I mean, simple ones like when she said, “I just tend to get out the office, and go for a walk in the park, or go to a coffee shop to start to free my mind up.” I think Steve Jobs did most of his thinking whilst he was walking. Stuff resonates like that.
I guess the other one is when she says, “I just don’t think about it too much,” which in some respects isn’t a terribly helpful thing to say, but it just demonstrates total what I believe is known as unconscious competence in the market, where you are just so comfortable with what you do, it’s kind of instinctive knowledge. She demonstrated that instinctive knowledge idea again, when she was talking about all the venues that she knew in Kuala Lumpur. I think many people get a bit overwhelmed when they get asked to sort of demonstrate knowledge, but once you start pulling it out of them, it’s all there. What it is, is it’s a case of, I think, just pulling that knowledge into something that you can then give to someone else, which is of value, and can give your brand some clarity.
What do you think to that, Toby?
Toby: Yeah. Well, she’s a great listener, isn’t she? She can deliver, and she has delivered on a number of occasions. You just have to look at the portfolio on the website. I think a lot of that culturally is … The way she thinks culturally is the culture of Dubai, rather, has been a great benefit to that sort of mindset, because I think the British way is there’s a lot of nay saying in the UK, that kind of traditional stiff upper lip. Having those formative years in a place that’s a growing market in every respect, and Dubai has obviously been a real great place for her to develop her skills and try things out, and obviously, if stuff doesn’t work, just move on and go again.
Again, I think the way that she tackles events with a very fresh perspective each time means that it’s not unusual, or it doesn’t freak her out, because it’s always different. Whereas a lot of other event types just have a couple of formulas and they keep doing it, and again, that obviously resonates with us well, because we try and never do what we would call a copy and paste style of event. Yeah, I think that’s why we get on with her, and I think it’s a great chat. I’m really privileged to have had it with her.
James: Just to say you can find more about Claire and Sian at the Sian website, which is sianevents.com spelled S.I.A.N events.com and again we’re on Facebook.com/metropolislive,
Twitter /metropolislive1, podcast is directly available now on Stitcher, which is the android platform for podcasting, and also on iTunes, just search for The planner’s Planner. Again, as ever, accompanying notes and links from this podcast will be found on our website, which is plannerspod.com
Thanks for listening, we’ll see you next time.
Toby: See you next time.
James: Cheers, James.
Female: You’re listening to The planner’s Planner Podcast with Toby Goodman and James Eager. Visit plannerspod.com
00:26 – Intro with Toby & James.
03:22 – Find out who is at the helm of SIAN and when it was originally founded.
04:38 – Discover Claire’s professional background.
05:05 – Find out more about the history of SIAN and the environment Claire grew up in.
05:40 – Find out where the big opportunity came.
06:22 – Claire talks about SIAN’s rebirth in 2002.
07:55 – Find out how Toby met Claire.
08:40 – Claire shares her thoughts on math, and why it’s crucial to love and understand entertainment.
10:10 – Find out the % of charity work SIAN does.
10:40 – Find out about Claire’s ‘Voice For’ charity.
11:50 – Claire talks about SIAN’s role in the event industry.
12:50 – SIAN’s offering in London.
13:45 – Claire talks about why she moved back to London.
14:40 – Claire’s talks about the quality of what SIAN does and why you shouldn’t waste of time.
16:30 – Find out how enterprising Claire can be on a budget.
17:30 – Why Claire’s ‘Dubai’ mindset still exists in London.
18:25 – Why the ‘Dubai mindset’ goes against the grain.
19:24 – Discover Claire’s ethos.
19:55 – Responsibility! Why it’s not worth going below a line.
21:30 – Claire talks about where she starts her creative process.
23:30 – How Claire created the ‘Sultanov’ brand.
24:20 – Claire congratulates Toby’s observational mind!
24:50 – How Claire’s eye for detail helped to create a brand image.
27:10 – How Claire positioned herself in London and surrounded herself with talented people.
28:00 – Claire talks about her relationship with the music producer Andy Wright.
29:30 – Toby tries to find out why Claire is so lucky all the time.
31:25 – Claire shows another example of where she sees opportunity!
32:10 – Find out what colour Claire’s hair is!
33:05 – Things get deep and Claire and Toby talk about thier parents!
34:20 – How staying motivated even when your always heading into the unknown.
35:20 – Toby identifies the ‘always fresh’ approach that Claire and Metropolis have.
37:05 – Claire talks about why no two events are the same and why that’s good.
38:15 – Discover what’s next for SIAN and for Claire.
39:45 – Claire demonstrates her global knowledge.
40:40 – Claire talks about how to best show company message and identity to a global audience.
42:00 – Claire talks about SIAN’s sister companies.
43:45 – How Wicked Tents fills a need.
44:40 – Discover a career highlight in Milan.
46:30 – Find out what Claire is capable of against all odds!
47:30 – Claire talks about trust.
48:22 – Discover Claire’s top tips for getting into the events industry.
49:10 – Claire gets geeky and talks about data being beautiful.
50:30 – Find out when it’s ok to let go of a project that isn’t working.
53:20 – You’ve only got one life!
53:40 – Closing thoughts with James and Toby.